President Trump on Thursday celebrated his impeachment acquittal during a freewheeling White House speech in which he declared vindication and denied any shred of wrongdoing having survived the most perilous stretch of his presidency.
“This is really not a news conference, it’s not a speech. It’s not anything,” Trump said to a crowd of GOP lawmakers, Cabinet officials, family members and other supporters at the East Room of the White House. “It’s just, we’re sort of, it’s a celebration because we have something that just worked out.
“It’s called total acquittal,” said Trump, who held aloft a newspaper headline declaring him cleared by the GOP-controlled Senate.
What followed was a mixture of a victory lap, a condensed campaign rally and an airing of grievances. Trump spoke for an hour, relying sparingly on the printed notes he had in front of him.
Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) were among the guests, as were Fox News host Laura Ingraham and contributor Katie Pavlich. Several GOP senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), were in attendance as well.
He recognized each of the lawmakers in attendance, taking a jovial tone as he recognized them each individually and riffing on the origins of their relationships that he said had been strengthened in the last few months.
Trump boasted about stock market gains under his administration and predicted Republicans would retake the House majority because of a backlash to impeachment.
“The spirit for the Republican Party right now is, I think, stronger than it’s ever been in the history of our country,” Trump said.
Few of Trump’s most prominent foils were spared on Thursday. He called former FBI Director James Comey “a disaster” and a “sleaze,” complained about the Russia investigation at length, ripped Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) as “vicious” and “horrible” people, chided Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) for being a “failed presidential candidate” and complained Democrats running for president are “saying the most horrendous things about me.”
Trump insisted he did nothing wrong and described his phone call with Ukraine’s president at the center of his impeachment as a “good phone call.”
“We went through hell, unfairly. Did nothing wrong,” Trump said Thursday. “I’ve done things wrong in life, I will admit. Not purposely. But I’ve done things wrong. But this is what the end result is.”
He did offer one apology, saying he was sorry his family had to go through “a phony, rotten deal by some very sick, evil people.”
The Senate on Wednesday acquitted Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress approved by the Democratic-controlled House. Democrats alleged he pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rivals by withholding security aid.
On the first article, 52 senators voted to acquit and 48 senators voted to convict; Romney was the lone Republican to join Democratic senators in voting to remove Trump from office on the abuse of power charge. On obstruction, 53 senators voted to acquit and 47 voted to convict.
Romney’s vote was significant. He became the first senator in U.S. history to vote to remove a president from their own political party through an impeachment trial.
The development brought an end to a months-long process that entrenched divisions on Capitol Hill and lifted a cloud that has followed Trump since late September when the House launched an impeachment inquiry into his dealings with Ukraine following revelations from a whistleblower complaint.
There was speculation leading up to Wednesday’s vote that the White House would get at least one Democratic senator to cross over and vote to acquit Trump on at least one of the articles. But the three Democrats considered swing votes — Sens. Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) — all voted to convict Trump on both charges.
The outcome appeared to catch the White House by surprise. On Wednesday, Vice President Pence said on Fox News he was expecting a “bipartisan vote” to acquit Trump.
The president has lashed out at Romney on Twitter, and he used his remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast to take issue with the Utah senator’s faith.
A handful of Republican senators — Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) among them — have denounced Trump’s behavior toward Ukraine as inappropriate and wrong, but still voted to acquit him, arguing it was best for voters to decide his fate.
But Trump is unlikely to be chastened by their condemnations, or in Collins’s case her hope Trump learned “a pretty big lesson” from the impeachment proceedings.
Trump on Thursday, appearing to reference Collins’s comments, said it was “OK” that some senators felt his actions were inappropriate before adding “it’s incorrect.”
Trump appeared unready to fully move on from impeachment on Thursday.
His speech was peppered with attacks on Democrats, and he assured the room full of supporters he was prepared to keep up the fight as Democrats signaled they would continue to pursue investigations.
“If they find that I happen to walk across the street and maybe go against the light or something: let’s impeach him. So I’ll probably have to do it again because these people have gone stone cold crazy. But I’ve beaten them all my life, and I’ll beat them again if I have to.”